Seven days ago I found myself forcing the words “Happy New Year” out of my mouth and through clenched teeth, whilst holding back tears. I was cold, no matter where I went, indoors or out, and I was exhausted. Sun-deprived and starved for proper rest. And pale. So very, very pale.
So I took my black ass to a tanning salon.
Excuse that statement if you found it to be crass. To be fair, I meant it in earnest. My ass, or my behind, was the only body part that had remained loyal to the race I was born into. I’d strip to get into the shower after a short day of work, but one that felt long, and notice that my behind was all aglow. The part of me that only sees the inside of jeans and tights was a lovely brown, while areas like my arms and face – spoiled parts that get exposure to what little sun we have available when I sacrifice heat for short-sleeved shirts and no scarves – were growing yellow. I had lost my spark, my skin had begun to peel, and my eyes were sunken in. “Perhaps I have scurvy,” I thought. “Or maybe I’m dying.”
Turns out it was neither of those things, but rather the deadly combination of too little time spent praying and talking to God, replaced by work (and reality television), and birth control. The concert that our foundation threw was a mega-undertaking, and it made me feel more wiped out than I can express now that the hard part has passed. You pair legitimate exhaustion with pills that purposely spike and then steamroll your hormones and the result is a breakdown in the middle of a discount clothing store over not being able to find your subway card.
“Hi,” I began. “I’m black, and I feel sad, and I’d like for you to hit me with whatever’s gonna make me feel better.” Ali nodded. She was an unnatural tan, but very friendly and she made me feel like I actually belonged there. I started frantically grabbing packs of tanning oil, and grabbed two of anything that smelled good. “You don’t need those,” she said while gently pushing my hand down until I let go of them. She told me that it was possible to be blasted with real UV rays, and that for every minute I spent inside of the bed I was absorbing the same amount of vitamin D found in twelve glasses of milk.
Ali had me sign a simple form that basically said I wouldn’t sue if I developed cancer years down the line. She tried coaxing me into the stand-up bed, but I wanted to lie down and just be still. She led me to room 6, gave me instructions on how the bed worked, and advised I turn down the face lamp since I’d be baking for the maximum amount of time allowed, twelve minutes. Twelve minutes x Twelve glasses of milk EQUALS one hundred and forty-four glasses of milk. The door began to close and I started to unbutton my coat.
“Oh,” she said as she popped her head back inside the door, “if you pick those up and turn them to station 3 you can hear the sounds of the ocean.” I let my fingers graze the headphones she pointed to, and then said a silent thank you to God for being so wise and so awesome and as usual, a billion steps ahead of me.I finally laid down, put the headphones on, and tried my hardest to block out the wedding and how much it was costing to lie inside of the bright chamber I could barely make out from inside my teeny-tiny goggles.
Say what you want to, but when I emerged I looked amazing. I was back to being a golden brown, my headache had disappeared, and I was smiling. I called my friend Emily and confessed what I’d done. “You can’t put a price on happiness,” she said. And with that blessing, I got my nails done too.
Now that I’ve taken care of myself, it’s time to get back to pampering others. To make up for the unpredictable outbursts of emotion that he’s been subject to I have: paid for his dinner, a few times over, allowed him to drink Dr. Pepper without lecturing him, offered to watch the National Football championship (Roll Tide) in the sports bar of his choosing, and relinquished control of the remote on evenings when he’s been here. He’s done amazingly while I’ve been off-kilter and overly sensitive, but this is most likely because he keeps his mouth shut while keeping his eyes on my chest. Hard not to notice the change this stupid, stupid medicine has forced upon me.
Last but not least I reached for the Message Bible, and searched for 1 Samuel Chapter 30. It’s the recounting of King David’s loss to his enemies, his day or so spent in utter despair and discouragement, and the moment he washes his face and decides to press on. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Bible because I can completely relate to the frustration and the aggravation and the feeling of dragging yourself to your feet when all you want to do is cave in and quit.
But you don’t. You remind yourself that you’re a conqueror over every obstacle, that the year has just begun and moments like these don’t determine how it will end, and you crawl inside of a big warm machine until you hear